I’ve been reading J. B. Priestley’s (less than brilliant) 1936 novel, They Walk in the City. This paragraph struck me; a young Yorkshirewoman is walking round London one September afternoon:
But she recognised the Cenotaph and looked with interest, though without emotion, at the fading flowers and curling wreaths massed round its base. Her Uncle Ben had been killed in the War, but she did not remember him. She was pleased, though, at the way in which some of the men who passed by raised their hats so nicely to the cenotaph, and would have liked to have told one of them about her Uncle Ben.
Priestley (who had fought in the War, and had been seriously wounded) is imagining the response of a younger generation unable to connect with events that still seemed important but which they could hardly remember. Last November’s wreaths would indeed have been fading by September, but the adjective applies to memories, too.
But the raising of hats. I’ve read several references to this. How long did it go on for? My guess would be until the late fifties and early sixties, when men stopped wearing hats. (Hats went from near-universal to rarities very quickly, I think. It happened at the same time as the exponential growth of car ownership. Did wearing a hat become a sign that you did not have a car?)
I wonder if anyone does still raise his hat to the Cenotaph. I doubt it. When I was a boy, we were expected to stand still and remove our caps when a funeral passed. Now nobody takes any notice.